Jessica Fletcher

Cabot Cove, Maine, USA.

High salaries, self-funded retirees and economic comfort.

A strong social conscience and a history of liberalism.

A town in crisis.

While the 80s and 90s saw the federal and state governments wage a hard line war on drugs in big cities and focus on cleaning up violent crime, the people of Cabot Cove suffered. This sleepy little fishing village with a population of 3,500 had a murder rate higher than Johannesburg – with more 2% of the populace falling victim to foul play.

This is a story about a town, its social problems, and its saviour: Jessica Beatrice Fletcher.

Fletcher began life teaching at Cabot Cove High. It was there that her disillusionment with the government began. Funding was down, students were going without what they needed, and teachers like her were left without the means to educate.

She frequently dipped into her own pockets to buy reading materials and lamented that her colleagues didn’t do the same. She was pro-community and felt frustrated by the lack of funding and intense bureaucracy she faced in trying to get any good done. Her vote for Carter in the 1978 Presidential race was the last time she would cast a vote for a Democrat for many, many years.

The 80s saw Fletcher’s economic circumstances change significantly. The success of her critically panned but best-selling novel, The Corpse Danced at Midnight, elevated her into a higher tax bracket. She welcomed the tax cuts from the Reagan administration, but still gave generously to charities supporting inner-city youth. “We need to do this,” she would often tell her good friend, Sherriff Amos Tupper, “because the government sure as hell will not help these kids out.”

It was her own motivation and disillusionment with government bodies that compelled Jessica to take matters into her own hands. Cabot Cove’s law enforcement and local government were at breaking point – with unlikely, isolated incident murders plaguing the community and causing confusion and widespread moral panic.

But complaining would get you nowhere, thought Fletcher. “Sometimes, we Americans have to roll up our sleeves, and get the job done,” she cried.  “If I see an opportunity to help out my community, I’m going to do it – I’m going to shoulder my burden. We don’t need the government to save us and we certainly don’t need their red tape to hold back the cleaning up of Cabot Cove.”

This is the attitude that made America what it is today… and the attitude that compelled Jessica Fletcher to solve 268 murder cases, armed only with her intuition, charm and matronly instincts.

In the mid-80s, Fletcher became associated with local political groups and began campaigning for local Republicans in Congress. Using her sizable network and celebrity to endorse candidates, she secured the election of several Republicans, always careful to stay away from the crazies and focus on good, fundamental centrists with their hearts in the right place.

She even stepped into the fray, answering the Governor’s call to fill in for an unfortunately deceased Congressman for a few weeks – such was her respect and pull in the local party. That was as close as she’d ever get to ins and outs of the machine, and her brief encounter with the inner machinations of Maine’s legislature left her as befuddled and cynical as ever.

Jessica Fletcher made the world a better place. She saw problems and she fixed them – consequences be damned. She was a Republican, an American and a hero, and the people of Cabot Cove salute her today.

Jessica Fletcher

Kath Day-Knight

When Kath Day-Knight voted for Kevin Rudd in 2007, it was the first time she had voted Labor.

“To be honest, I’m a swinger – when it comes to voting at least,” she says with a giggle.

“But when I saw K-Rudd on Sunrise with Mel and Kochie, he just came across like such a down-to-earth guy. I’ll tell ya, he gave my sauce bottle a fair shake!”

Kel was also caught up in the hype of the Kevin ’07 campaign, and produced a special commemorative sausage for the election: a combination of Darling Downs beef, Chinese five spice and cheese.

However, on 24 June 2010, Kath woke up to Mel and Kochie reporting that Julia Gillard was going to challenge Kevin Rudd for the Prime Ministership.

“I couldn’t believe it! I just felt that it was undemocratic you know? And after everything he’d done for us Indigenous Australians.”

After the election in August 2010, Kath gradually began to come round to Prime Minister Gillard. She was proud of the fact that Australia had a female Prime Minister, and one with whom she could closely relate. In Gillard, Kath saw a fellow footy fan (albeit for the wrong team); a  woman who shared her love of shoulder pads. In Tim, she saw a little of Kel.

But all the time there was a niggling feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

“I guess I just felt that Kevin hadn’t been given a fair go you know? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to vote for Tony Abbott, who’s such a negative nancy. But Julia’s just not floating my boat anymore.”

Kath says she’d vote for Kevin “in a heartbeat” if he was to come back for another go, which she compares to Ben Cousins’ return to the AFL to play for Richmond – but without the history of drug abuse.

Her daughter Kim on the other hand can’t see what all the fuss is about.

“Mum and Kel are such Kardonnay Socialites. They forget that Labor brought in the bloody carbon tax. Cujo’s food’s gonna go up $40 a bowl – Brett’s done the sums.”

Kath Day-Knight

Mr Bean

“There is no such thing as society: There are individual men and women, and there are families.”Margaret Thatcher, 1987.

Historians are divided on the impacts of Thatcherism and what sort of Britons it produced.

On one side are those who view Thatcher’s Homo Economicus Britannia as a positive creation: a creature who thrived in the open market, success assured with the right mix of entrepreneurial savvy and raw hard work.

On the other side are those who say that Thatcher’s Britain produced a generation of sociopaths: unable to relate to their fellow human beings, cruel and single-minded, whose pursuit of their own self-interest could easily lead to calamity.

Mr Bean was a solitary man of few words. With an almost alien inability to relate to other humans, he instead found friendship in a brown Teddy bear.

Neither a successful High Street banker nor a hardened coal miner, as Thatcher’s labour market reforms kicked into gear, Bean moved between a series of low-paid jobs in London’s services sector.

But this didn’t bother Bean, who seemed resigned simply to drift through life. Realising his inability to influence the bigger picture, he instead focused his attention on solving the little things in life: purchasing the right toothbrush through trial and error, or changing into one’s swimming trunks without taking one’s trousers off.

On his meagre income, Bean made do – stealing Christmas trees helped. He even managed the occasional holiday.

So when people around him complained about the increasingly fractious nature of British social relations thanks to the Tories, he couldn’t understand what they were complaining about; what did it matter that wages were not keeping up with inflation when your only major expense was petrol for your Mini Cooper? Why would you care if family benefits were inadequate when your closest companion was a stuffed toy?

In ’92, largely just to spite the whingers around him, Bean resolved to vote to bring John Major back for another term. However, he never made it to the polling booth, distracted on election day by the task of running a blue, three-wheeled Reliant Regal off the road.

After meeting Queen Elizabeth, Bean became a staunch monarchist. Unlike many people, he never supported Charles’s marriage to Diana and stood by the Queen’s seemingly cold reaction to Diana’s death. When Tony Blair began posturing around the passing of the “people’s princess”, Bean was appalled, and strengthened his resolve never to vote Labour.

Today, perhaps for the first time in his life, Bean shares something in common with his fellow countrymen: a sense of confusion as to what David Cameron’s “Big Society” actually entails and what role he, a tweed-wearing man of thrift, who has never participated successfully in any society (let alone a “Big” one), is supposed to play.

Mr Bean

Ray Barone

For some people, life is tough: a never-ending series of uphill battles and shoveling shit. In these people, the fires of constant struggle forge iron political wills and steely resolves for change.

Ray Barone is not one of these people.

Growing up on Long Island in the 60s, Raymond enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing. Benefitting from the Keynesian economic policies of America’s “golden era” , he received a high quality education, and although never shining academically, excelled at sports.

The sixties and seventies went by in a whirlwind of little league games and mama Barone’s pasta bake, supported by Frank Barone’s salary as a bookkeeper.

When he got his first chance to vote in 1980, two years of rising inflation and a recession under Carter had largely gone unnoticed by Barone, the only lifestyle change a few extra dollars on gas to commute to his new job as sports reporter at the New York Newsday.

It was the influence of Frank Barone, Korean War Vet and tax accountant rather than a strong anti-Carter sentiment that pushed him towards voting Reagan, but then again, who didn’t? He voted for Reagan again in ’84 , and for Bush in ’88 but swung to Clinton in 1992.

In 2003 while sitting in bed watching ESPN, to her dismay, Debra Barone discovered that her husband had voted Bush in 2000 after interrogating him about an offhand comment he had made about Gore being a “sissy”. According to Ray, he had voted for Dubya “cos I dunno, he seems like a good guy who I’d watch a game of football with.”

Debra, one of two girls brought up in a well-to-do Catholic family, had fallen in love with the Democrats at an early age, instantly smitten with JFK, who would become a role model during her teenage years.

In 2004, Debra, this time aware of her husband’s past voting record, guilted Ray into voting for Kerry. In the immediate aftermath of the election, Raymond whined incessantly that Debra had “made him choose the loser.”

Raymond’s vote for Obama was sealed after his Newsday colleague sent him a YouTube clip of the candidate sinking a three pointer while touring Iraq.

Ray Barone

Harold Bishop

On 9 March 1954, Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Brisbane for the first time as part of her inaugural two-month tour of Australia. Having already visited the major metropolitan cities of Sydney and Melbourne, she was mildly startled by the enthusiastic reception she encountered in Brisbane. One could certainly feel something extra in the cries of the adoring public as the motorcade passed along George Street that day.

Perhaps one of the most excited members of the thronging crowd that day was young Harold Bishop.

Bishop grew up at a time when Australia decidedly looked to Britain. His parents had come to Australia just after the Great Depression. Very English, very Methodist, and very middle class, they imbued in Harold a conservative worldview that would last his entire life.

When he met Madge in high school, Bishop was instantly smitten and vowed that he would marry her. But it wasn’t to be. One night, the teenage Harold went home with local trollop, Mavis, who swiftly deflowered him. After Mavis fell pregnant with his son, Bishop felt it was only proper to marry her. The couple had another child before Mavis passed away, leaving Bishop to raise his teenage children on his own. Struggling to cope, he reacted in the only way he knew how – by embracing the conservative values and strict parenting style his parents had imparted to him during childhood. Politically, his first vote in a Federal election was for Menzies in 1958, beginning a relationship with the Liberal Party that would only drive his kids away further during the swinging sixties.

Bishop moved to Melbourne in the 1980s. By then, he was a middling man, a tuba player and a Salvation Army volunteer. His individualist, anti-Labor, traditionalist views found a welcome home in solidly middle class Errinsborough. Throughout his life, he had stayed loyal to the Liberal Party. He couldn’t wait to see the back of Whitlam, thought Fraser could’ve gone a bit further in the 1970s, and resented Keating’s sneering at Australia’s British traditions.

Having just bought the coffee shop, Bishop rejoiced when Howard came to office in 1996, certain (although without much evidence) that small business would be better off under the Liberal-Nationals. Moreover, the Australia he had known had changed, and he thought Howard was the man who could reverse the tide. Yet, as the Howard years wore on, Bishop found himself confused. While the deliberate attacks on traditional Australia had subsided, he sensed Howard’s reign was largely an extension of Keating’s. Immediately, Bishop sought a third party in the late-1990s, and for him it was the Christian Democrats.

In 2003, Harold’s life took a dramatic turn after he suffered a stroke. He gave up his vegetarianism, began drinking, left the Salvation Army, and pinched Izzy’s bottom. In this warped state of mind, he also seriously began to consider One Nation as a viable alternative to the major parties. Luckily for Harold, and the nation, he later recovered.

And when he had recovered, he came back to Howard. Even when his church criticised the treatment of refugees, the participation in US wars of adventure and tacit support for torture, Bishop stayed with Howard. He remains a loyal Liberal today, heartened by Tony Abbott’s views on the carbon  tax and his outward Catholicism.

Harold Bishop

Ossie Ostrich

Oswald Q Ostrich’s family settled in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg in the late 1950s. Fleeing a Europe beset by Stalinism’s iron fist, Ossie’s father Yuri Ostrich took to the relative ease and comfort of Australian life.

Quickly unionised, Yuri joined the Labor Party. Never religious, his religion became the Coburg Football Club and the VFA.

His son Ossie grew up with a strong sense of dual identity between his central European heritage and his family’s love for Melbourne Labor politics and Victorian amateur football.

Ossie, however, couldn’t play football. But he could play politics, and it wasn’t long before he was on the road to becoming one of the great numbers men of the Victorian Right. In virtually every preselection in Melbourne’s northern suburbs from the 1970s onwards, the influence of Ossie Ostrich was felt.

He also grew up with a wise-cracking, self-deprecating sense of humour – probably some sort of coping mechanism he’d developed while growing up an immigrant bird, he’d think as he got older. The humorous Ossie was the one Australia came to love. But the other Ossie is a story which has never really been told.

Ostrich, as a great backroom man, could move numbers against anyone. And when he couldn’t beat them in branch meetings, he’d lure them onto Red Faces on the pretense of a publicity stunt, where inevitably they’d make a complete tit of themselves. No one would vote for someone who Red gonged and scored a ‘2’.

In those days, Hey Hey was a hotbed of political division.  Ossie often nearly came to blows in the Green Room after taking issue with something said by prominent Grouper, Wilbur Wilde.  

Ostrich and his father split over politics in 1992, after former Prime Minister Bob Hawke retired from Parliament. At the ensuing by-election, ever the machine man, Ossie was instrumental in the campaign of the lacklustre Labor candidate. His father, already resentful of Hawke’s liberalisation of the economy, looked no further than his former football hero, Phil Cleary. After Cleary’s victory, Ossie pursued him to the High Court. His father didn’t speak to him for years.

Ossie retired from television in the 1990s to concentrate on politics. While he remains a loyal Labor voter, he was expelled from the party in the early 2000s after trying to oust a sitting MP and factional enemy from his safe seat. Head office grew suspicious when 640 ostriches signed up to the party in a three week period leading up to preselection.

It had Ostrich’s hands all over it. His dream of ending his working life with a spot in the Victorian upper house was dashed. He’d ruffled too many feathers.

Ossie Ostrich

Willie Tanner

Willie Tanner was a good man.

Who, after all, would take in an alien with a penchant for cats, no questions asked?

He was the product of a thriving, open, optimistic America. He was a man who could always see the good in people.

A social worker in the 1980s, Tanner had been on the frontline as America’s working poor grew and Reaganomics unleashed waves of deindustrialisation.

Despite his dislike of Reagan and the 1980s culture of excess, Tanner was no bleeding heart.  While he saw more and more people struggling, in some part of him, he could see a logic in what was happening to his country.

While Willie had always been on the left of the Democratic Party  – he’d campaigned for McGovern, supported Kennedy’s challenge to Carter in 1980, and was an early supporter of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 – he was still pragmatic. He’d lived long enough to see times change, and he thought they would once a Democrat took the White House.

Yet, when the US Military’s abducted ALF and Willie’s best friend was never heard of again, Tanner was hit by a jolt. He came to see the 1980s not as an exception before another American rebirth, but as a newly entrenched norm.

For Tanner, the US Government’s treatment of ALF seemed to foreshadow a much wider attack on outsiders throughout the 1990s and into the new century.

As a social worker, he’d worked with the downtrodden all his life.  He’d seen how hard it was for migrants to make it in Reagan’s America. But when the false promise of Bill Clinton (who Tanner did vote for) proved to be exactly that, and Clinton signed into law Gingrich’s Welfare to Work legislation in the 1990s, Tanner broke with official politics in the United States and never looked back.

He could no longer tolerate the way the US Government treated its most downtrodden. And he could not tolerate the way a creeping xenophobia began to infiltrate the nation’s public life.

The social crisis echoed a personal one – after his wife Kate embarked on a torrid affair with longtime neighbor Mr Ochmonek, Tanner broke from his comfortable life as well.

So, Tanner left town and headed south, and spent the remainder of the 1990s and most of the 2000s on the Mexican border, ferrying migrants illegally across the Rio Grande. He couldn’t save ALF, his marriage, or the country at large, but he could aide Mexican workers as they sought a better life, echoing the refuge he gave an alien from Melmac nearly two decades before.

Sadly, as economic conditions in the US worsened, opportunistic politicians jumped on illegal immigration and whipped up racial resentment as a distraction to social plight. In the ensuing frenzy that erupted, Willie Tanner fell victim to a bullet from neo-fascist Minutemen.

He was attempting to bring a young mother and her son across the border.

He was denounced as a traitor in the right-wing media.

But Willie Tanner was a good man.

Willie Tanner